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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1742

Senator MacGIBBON(11.53) — The Senate is discussing the Export Inspection Charge Bill and two allied Bills. The Opposition does not oppose the Bills, because to deny the Government the legislation would serve no purpose at all. The existing legislation that puts these imposts on industry will stay in place until these Bills are proclaimed. Therefore, even if we had the support of the Australian Democrats-I do not know their position on this legislation-it would serve no point. Nevertheless, we shall seek constructively to criticise the failings and misdirections inherent in this legislation. These Bills serve no useful purpose for Australia. In fact, they damage Australia's economy by putting added imposts on our export earnings.

No other country puts imposts on exports of agricultural products. Australia does and Labor has applied excessive imposts. In our exports we are competing on price around the world. Loyalties mean nothing. This is a simple commercial transaction. The powers of trade unions to impose bans and the cost of the sorts of monopolies that they impose within the country stand for nought. When we sell products overseas, they sell on their quality and price. The costs borne in producing them have no relevance to what people are prepared to pay for them. Australia is competing in a world which has an oversupply of agricultural products. What is worse is that the oversupply has been heavily subsidised by countries such as those in the European Economic Community. Therefore, it is a very difficult market for Australia to compete in. However, Australia must maintain its market share because it is worth at least $8 billion a year to us. As I have said endlessly in this place, we cannot live by taking in one another's washing. We must earn money on the overseas markets and the rural export industries of Australia are the most important means of obtaining export earnings that we have.

The first in the list of Bills we are debating this morning is the Export Inspection Charge Bill, which consolidates 10 existing inspection charge Acts relating to primary products, other than meat, where charges are imposed on the basis of the existence of an export permit. It includes provisions which enable charges to be imposed for inspection of canned and processed fruit or vegetable products. The second Bill is the Export Inspection Charge Collection Bill, which provides for the collection of the charges imposed under the Export Inspection Charge Bill.

It is interesting to note that the legislation specifies that the charge will be payable 28 days after the last day of the month in which the permit was granted. The export permit will be revoked unless the charges levied under the Bill are paid promptly. Here is a Labor Government bringing in legislation to demand payment with 28 days, yet at the same time the rate of payments by the Commonwealth to its creditors is so bad that a member of the Liberal Party has been forced to bring in a private member's Bill requiring the Commonwealth to pay its bills in a reasonable time. It is common knowledge around Australia that the minimum period of payment by the Commonwealth of its debts under Labor is 90 days. There are many people, including people in this city, who are writing to the Liberal Party stating, in effect, that they are waiting between four and six months for payment after presentation of accounts. There is one law for the Government and another law for the poor people outside the Government.

Senator Collard —A disgraceful state of affairs.

Senator MacGIBBON —It is absolutely disgraceful. How would I be regarded if I got up in this place and said: 'Do not worry about paying income tax or the interest that will be put on the fine and the amount outstanding. Do what you like and follow the same line as the Government does in paying its accounts'. If that were to happen, the gaols would be full overnight. If there is one law for the Government in respect of debts owing to it, it is good enough for the Government to follow the same principle in paying its own creditors.

Returning to the legislation itself, the third Bill with which we are dealing is the Export Inspection Legislation (Consequential Amendments) Bill, which amends and repeals certain Acts as a consequence of the two allied Bills. These Bills impose costs and in the first instance they are borne by farmers. It is part of the great mythology of the Labor Party that farmers are rich land owners driving around Australia in their Rolls-Royces, with sheep breathing over their shoulders and all the rest of it. However, the average yearly income in the Australian farming community is $7,000, which would put farmers almost in the peasant category. It is certainly far less than the average unionist earns in industrial Australia.

The fact that these three Bills will load the already high costs that farmers are bearing is intolerable, but one cannot expect much else from this Government. As I took the time to inform the Government yesterday, Labor members are not just bad economic managers; they are bad managers, period. The Labor Party cannot manage anything.

Beyond the effects on the farmers, there is a major effect on the whole industry. Because this cost is added to our export commodities, they will cost more in the intense, white hot heat of competition overseas. This is part of the Labor pattern. As Senator Boswell said, there has been a 200 per cent increase in the beef inspection charge. The Government claims that that increase, which will put a meat inspection charge at about $6-$10 a beast, is 50 per cent of the true cost. That may be so under the mismanagement of Labor, but as a beef producer I can tell the Senate that one can very carefully and competently do an inspection of beef in abattoirs at no more than $3.50 per carcass. That is not 50 per cent of the charge; that is the whole charge. I would think that with efficient systems we might get the inspection charge down to about $3 per beast. Under Labor the cost of inspection of an export beast is, on the Government's own admission, between $12 and $20. That is absolute financial irresponsibility.

Since this legislation was introduced it has come to light that one of the things the Government has been sitting on and been very quiet about is that the export inspection charges for oysters have gone up 1,000 per cent under Labor. We know that we are living with the legacy of Whitlam inflation and that high figures are great news for the Labor Party, but really, a 1,000 per cent increase in the charge in 2 1/2 years strains the credulity of even Senator Archer, who is inured to the irrationality of Labor Party operations.

One of these Bills provides for an export levy on canned fruits. The Australian canned fruit industry has a reputation around the world for quality. It has been exporting for 60 years absolutely unencumbered by any inspection charges. It conforms to high standards of hygiene and quality for the Australian home market-the highest standards in the world-and we do not need any inspectors telling us that something has to be done to keep that product up to quality for the overseas market. It is already meeting some of the highest standards in the world and it is quite superfluous to put in inspectors to look at it.

Let me deal briefly with and destroy the defence of these Bills by the Labor Party. The first claim it makes is that because we trade overseas we need to ensure standards, we need to ensure the reputation of the Australian product. No one on the Liberal-National Party side of this Parliament does not agree with or support that to the hilt. Because we support it does not mean that we have to go down this cost ineffective and bureaucratic machinery road to bring it about. Quality and reputation are not bought with money. They are not bought by just issuing cheques drawn on the account of the Australian taxpayer, which is what the Labor Party is trying to do.

While on the subject of overseas trade and its importance, the point lost entirely on the Labor Party is that supply is every bit as important as quality. By supply I mean the reliability and the consistency of supply. When have we ever seen one thing from the Labor Party to guarantee supply in our overseas contracts, particularly in the minerals field? How often have ships been tied up off Hay Point in Queensland or off Newcastle while unions, whether they be coal mining unions, transport unions or the unions responsible for loading coal on to the ships, carry on with some pointless and selfish little squabble, tying up millions of tonnes of shipping for weeks on end while they fight for their selfish little goals? That is the sort of thing that destroys Australia's reputation as an exporter and loses markets for us, and when we lose markets we lose them either forever or for a very long time. We do not see one bit of recognition of that in this legislation before us today.

While I am on the subject of strikes, I turn to what is very much part of our export earnings-the tourist traffic to this country. No tourists will come from countries such as the United States and Japan, where they have only a week or two weeks holiday per year, and be held ransom by such people as the refuellers at Australian airports who may tie them up for days or even weeks with pointless strikes. Tourists have to be able to come into the country knowing that on an appointed day they are going to fly out and that, except for the extremes of weather, which are very unlikely, they are not going to be held up by some senseless strike. Again we see nothing from the Labor Party to control the obvious in this respect.

Over and above everything else in relation to overseas trade, as well as looking after our reputation and the supply, the very first thing to do is to maintain the market. There were overseas markets for commodities that the Labor Party inherited when it came into office in March 1983. Sadly and tragically, a large number of those markets have gone, and have gone for many a year, because of the sheer incompetence of Ministers for Trade and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) in the Labor Party Government. I will give just one example of that. When the Labor Party came to power in 1983 Australia was providing 50,000 tonnes of beef to Korea alone. In 1984 Korean imports of Australian beef had fallen from 50,000 to 10,000 tonnes. In 1985 exports of Australian beef to Korea will probably be very close to zero. In other words, we have lost 50,000 tonnes of beef to Korea under the benign neglect and sheer incompetence of the people on the other side. That is what I mean by maintaining the markets. If we do not maintain the markets we will not get back into them when we have a change in government, however careful and effective our diplomacy and our Trade Ministers might be, because we will have to fight and dislodge others in the market. We will dislodge them only by having a better quality product at a lower price, which means that we will earn less for our exports as we fight our way back over the years into that market.

The second justification the Labor Party has brought up is that the previous Government imposed a meat levy. That is perfectly true, and we have never resiled from that, but we did not put a disproportionate levy on the beef trade. We certainly had none on the canned fruit trade, which is one of the principal parts of this legislation. Having put on those imposts we very definitely did not lift them by 200 per cent or 1,000 per cent. Over and above everything else, this Government has been in power for 2 1/2 years of economic mismanagement. If it did not like the charges, did not approve of them or thought they were not justified, it could have removed them in the way it has removed housing interest subsidies and many other factors during its term of office.

I return to the central point that sticks with the Opposition and is the reason why we will have no bar of this legislation when we get into power; that is, it affects our competitive position and our export earnings. The coalition has made this very clear in its policy statements. The relevant document says:

A coalition government will . . . ensure that a high standard export inspection service is maintained where the circumstances of trade require that certification by the Commonwealth be provided. The Commonwealth will co-operate with industry bodies and the States concerned to ensure that the inspection is efficiently conducted without duplication and at the Commonwealth's expense.

In other words, a coalition government will meet the costs of any export charges, and that is the way it should be, because we come back to the point of the value of export earnings for the development of Australia.

We are part of the western rim of the Pacific where huge potential food markets are available for us. They are not markets that are going to be captured or penetrated without a great deal of thought and careful analysis. It is going to take a lot of hard work to get a place in them. Furthermore, they are specialised markets that differ from country to country. The type of product we can supply to Japan will be different from that we can supply to Korea or to Taiwan. But the markets are there if we can get our act together.

Earlier this year I was in Japan and made a particular point of going through supermarkets in Tokyo. While the beef trade to Japan is a specialised field in itself, I believe that the canned food market in Japan is wide open to Australia if we can market there in a competitive and aggressive way. I must say that while going through the supermarkets I could not find one Australian canned food produce on the shelves. There were products from many European countries, including Sweden, Switzerland and Britain, many products from the United States and a few from New Zealand, but I could not find one product from Australia. One of the keys to getting into that market is, of course, to be cost competitive. We cannot be cost competitive if we are going to load up these prices with bureaucratic charges for inspections.

If the Labor Party wishes to go ahead with the imposition of these charges, the correct thing for it to do is to privatise the inspection processes. Rather than having them done by a bunch of public servants who have no incentive to work and no incentive to keep costs down, the inspection processes could, quite realistically, be put out to tender. The terms under which the inspections have to be carried out and the standards which have to be met could be defined and very heavy penalties could be written into the legislation so that any backsliding, any failure to observe those standards, would meet a very heavy deterrent penalty. If we did that we could put these inspection processes to tender. I would guarantee, particularly in the case of the beef inspection charges, that the amount we would pay would come down to a figure well under a quarter of what we are paying at present. I see no difficulty with the Australian Labor Party going down that path but I suppose it is too innovative and too creative for it even to consider.

In conclusion, I will look at Labor's position on this matter. I go back to the ALP agricultural policy document of February 1983. Page 4 states:

. . . Labor is fully briefed on the state of Australian agriculture . . .

It also states:

We realise industry want less government involvement but where the Commonwealth must be involved and producers are paying, eg export inspection, Labor will ensure value for money.

What a hollow claim! What a beauty! Labor will ensure value for money! Have we ever got value for money from any government decision coming from the Labor Party? Further on in Labor's agricultural policy document of February 1983 is a section entitled 'Horticultural Industries'. Here the policy states that the Labor Government will facilitate export expansion and facilitate market extension. It also states:

Labor's approach to policy making is centred on full consultation.

I can assure the Senate that there has been no meaningful consultation at all on this matter with the export industries in the primary sector. Dictates may have been given to them that the legislation was coming but there has been no assessment of the need for, or the consequences of, this legislation. The final piece de resistance happens to be the introductory part of the document in which the Labor Party states:

A dynamic farm sector is essential to the social and economic well-being of all Australians, particularly the one-third of our people living outside capital cities.

Just as agriculture is vitally important to the Australian economy, what matters most to the nation's 170,000 farmers is sound economic management.

That promise of sound economic management is as valid as the promise made on the steps of the Opera House by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) that this year he would build as many houses under the housing grants scheme-we debated this matter yesterday-as he did last year. It is as valid as the promise that Mr Integrity made to the United States Government that he would allow MX missile tests to take place here. The Labor Party has no concern at all for rural Australia; the Labor Party has no concern for the rural export earnings of this country.